Jump to content



Archives Overview

The Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, founded in 1505, is one of the oldest medical incorporations in continuous existence in the world. The archive holds institutional and other records dating from the 1460s and extensive archival material relating to the college membership and to the history of medicine and surgery in Scotland. It includes minute books; administrative records; manuscripts; architectural plans; letters; lecture notes; early case notes; diplomas, other certificates and honours; class cards; photographs and personal papers; slides and film. The collections include pamphlets, early probationary essays, faculty dissertations and theses.

Institutional records

Papers of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (1466-present) can be searched through our online catalogue and include:

Associated Institutional Records

You can search these collections on our catalogue here

Gifted and deposited papers

Personal collected papers  and miscellaneous papers of Fellows and Members of the Royal College of Surgeons and of other individuals and organisations related to the history of medicine and surgery in Scotland and elsewhere. These include those of Lord Lister, Sir James Young Simpson, Sir John Struthers, Sir Henry Duncan Littlejohn & Sir Henry Harvey Littlejohn, Sir Henry Wade, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. These are listed on the national gateway to descriptions of archives in UK universities and colleges, the Archives Hub - www.archiveshub.ac.uk.

Case-books, clinical notebooks and lecture notes

Manuscript notes include those of Thomas Annandale, John Gregory, James Russell, Archibald Adam Scot Skirving, William Cullen, Benjamin Bell (unconfirmed), Sir William Fergusson, James Syme, Alexander Monro (Primus, Secundus & Tertius); lectures and students’ notes of lectures given by the latter three, and by Professor John Thomson, James Young Simpson, Joseph Lister, James Gregory, David Middleton Greig, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the family of John and Charles Bell, and others.

Clinical and surgical casebooks include those of Joseph Lister (Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh), Archibale Skirving (Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Leith Hospital and Edinburgh Lock Hospital), Syme and Hamilton (Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh), and William Cullen and Dr. William Brown (Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh).

Pamphlets and Probationary Essays

The printed collections include over 2,500 catalogued 19th and 20th century pamphlets, mainly bound, many of which are signed, and some annotated, by their authors.

Probationary essays were published 1804-1843 by surgeons “when candidate for admission to their body in conformity with their regulations respecting admission of ordinary Fellows”.

Class cards

We have a large number of class cards of medical students from the early 18th century - including the classes of Alexander Monro (Primus), William Cullen, Joseph Black, John Barclay, Robert Knox, John Lizars, William MacGillivray, John Sutherland, G D Mitchell, Andrew H Carmichael, David Menzies, F M Caird, David Middleton Greig, William Rutherford and others.


The College holds an extensive collection of photographic material relating to:

  • individuals
  • medical organisations (Scotland and abroad)
  • college events and ceremonies
  • college buildings
  • college collections including objects, specimens, books, papers, etc.

Image Gallery

Digitisation of the collection is ongoing and copies of original material may be provided for personal research purposes by agreement but this does not authorise any other use.

Most of these images may be purchased directly. Please contact the Library library@rcsed.ac.uk for conditions and prices. Copyright Laws apply - www.cla.co.uk

Original film & tape

The archive contains some historical film and tape, for example, from E. N. Jamieson in the 1930s. There are videotapes of surgical procedures from the 1980s prepared by Mr John Guy FRCSEd which have historical interest. There is an ongoing active oral history group that is preparing filmed interviews of eminent college fellows, building a valuable resource. There is an ongoing Oral History project recording the experiences and memories of senior Fellows.


Due to the nature of the material held, access to the archive may occasionally take time to arrange. Please check the website collections pages to identify relevant material. Please contact us in advance, so that we can prepare materials you wish to consult. Some archival items may have closure periods. Currently, personal health records are closed for 75 years. Records relating to minors are closed for 100 years. See www.sehd.scot.nhs.uk/mels/1993_152.htm and the Data Protection Act.

Copying of material is governed by copyright law - www.cla.co.uk/copyright_information_aboutcopyright.php

Notes on conditions of using the archive

The language/scripts of material is mainly English with early records in Old Scots and some Latin.

Finding Aids

Hand lists exist for all fonds.  Selected personal papers are listed on the UK’s Archives Hub

Collection Policy

The archive continues to hold the institutional archive for the college.
The college actively seeks archival material relating to the history of the college and associated organisations.
The college welcomes donations of material relating to its membership or other associates of the College.


Gifts and donations to the archives may be discussed in confidence with the College Archivist - j.cahif@rcsed.ac.uk